Samsung Gear VR with Controller powered by Oculus hands-on

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The Gear VR kickstarted the mobile virtual reality boom, and now Samsung is making sure it doesn’t get left behind by VR upstarts like Daydream View. How? With a spiffy new controller.

There might not have been a brand new Galaxy smartphone to slot inside it yet, but we still got a first look at the revised headset and new controller at this year’s Mobile World Congress show.

With no apps or games ready for us to try just yet, this was a strictly hands-off demo – but having fondled the controller, we’ve got a good idea what to expect when it arrives later in the year.

With a clickable touchpad at the top and a trigger on the back, the new Gear VR controller has more than a little whiff of HTC’s Vive and Google’s Daydream View. Which is no bad thing.

It’s small, but comfortable enough to grip, and has a slot for attaching a wrist strap – so you don’t send it flying while you’re wildly waving your arms about.

We’re expecting it to have all the usual accelerometers and motion sensors built into it, but with no tracking camera on the headset it’s unlikely to appear inside VR like HTC’s Vive controllers do.

It’s powered by two AAA batteries instead of USB C, like the Daydream View controller. With a lot of sensors packed inside the controller, it’ll be interesting to see how long you’ll be able to play between replacements.

Quite how it’ll work once you’re in VR, though? That’s still a mystery. We’re guessing it might work like a wand, similar to how Daydream View works, but the clickable touchpad should also make scrolling through menus a lot easier than reaching up to the headset every time.

The Gear VR headset itself doesn’t look all that different from the refreshed 2016 version, which arrived alongside the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 back in 2016.

It’s a little lighter now, with a few little changes to the front cover that protects your phone while you’re deep in virtual reality, but otherwise it’s roughly the same as before.

That means the same comfy material surrounding your face, and the same lenses that make the most of your phone’s QHD screen resolution. Things could still change between now and launch, though, and with no confirmed specs just yet, we don’t know if the field of view has been upped from 101-degrees for a more immersive experience.

There might be a controller in the box, but the headset keeps the old built-in touchpad, so you don’t need to hold something every time you want to try out VR. Just watching video? Put the controller down and scroll through menus using the headset.

Expect the switchable USB connectors to make a reappearance here, too. Our demo unit had the microUSB version installed, but it’s an easy job to swap it for a USB-C version. That means older Galaxy phones will fully support the new headset, and of course the new controller.

INITIAL VERDICT

It might not have been possible to actually try out the new controller, but just getting to grips with one gives a pretty good idea what to expect when it officially goes on sale.

Better interaction was exactly what Gear VR needed, in light of Google’s excellent Daydream View headset, and Samsung looks to have delivered. Hopefully there are enough apps and games at launch to take advantage of the new hardware – 70 are apparently in development, which is a good sign.

The other good news is that existing Gear VR owners won’t need a brand new headset to get involved – the controller will work with your original hardware. Whether Samsung will be selling it separately at launch is a mystery at this point, though.

We don’t know when we’ll get a better look at the finished hardware, either – but it’s easy enough to guess.

With invites to a reveal event already putting March 29 on the tech calendar, you can safely bet that the new Gear VR will get a proper debut alongside the Galaxy S8 smartphone.

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